An occasional look at the West, wild and otherwise, in fiction and nonfiction, comics, moving pictures, radio, music, and in ways yet determined or created. Caveat lector: Irregular postings from The Woodstove Whittlers and Wrangling Association may include a tall tale whose veracity may be difficult to ascertain, but whose sincerity should never be doubted. This blog may go on unexpected hiatus due to natural disasters, stampedes, seasonal roundups, or spontaneous potluck suppers. (Oh, and everything here is copyright Duane Spurlock unless otherwise noted.)
A book I illustrated, The Bleeding Horse and Other Ghost Stories, has recently been named winner of the Children of the Night Award by the Dracula Society.
The Bleeding Horse is the name of a pub. No animals were harmed during the making of this book.
I must admit, this book is not a western. Although Dublin is noted for its long history in keeping Western civilization alive.
The book was published by Mercier Press in Ireland.
The author, Brian J. Showers, is a native of Madison, Wisconsin, who lives in Dublin, Ireland. The dust jacket painting is by noted fantasy artist, Scott Hampton. I provided the black-and-white pen-and-ink interior illustrations, one of which I've included with this post. Three stories from The Bleeding Horse, "Favourite No. 7 Omnibus", "Quis Separabit" and "Father Corrigan's Diary", received honorable mentions by fantasy and horror anthologist Ellen Datlow in her Best Horror of the Year (2008) listing.
The stories blend fact and imagination about a series of actual sites along the Rathmines Road, which runs through Rathmines, a Dublin neighborhood that Showers now calls home. Showers' creativity in melding truth with fiction lends a verisimilitude that leaves the reader wondering if these stories are really true.
Fargo is a character from the near-end of the wild western era, operating during the Mexican-American War, playing gun-runner or troubleshooter for whomever will pay him to do the dirty work.
Fargo (New York: Belmont Tower Books, 1971) is the first in this series. Hard-boiled, muscular, manly -- there's as much sentiment in these stories as Fargo has fat registering in his body mass index. Imagine Lee Marvin in a southern Texas-northern Mexican setting with a bandoleer of brass cartridges, bristling with arms like a rabid porcupine is prickly with barbs. Without using Lee Marvin's name, that's pretty much how the author -- Ben Haas, masked by the John Benteen pseudonym -- describes his anti-hero.
In this opening novel, Neal Fargo jumps right in on the Pancho Villa revolution, setting out to help some Yankees haul a pack-mule train of silver from their mine before the revolutionaries grab it. On the way, he encounters a sadistic Spanish land owner, some beautiful women, and some double-crossing Americans.
There's plenty of action, and the pace is quick, full of action. Reading this story is so manly you just want to build a fire and grill a steak and drink a beer with a tequila chaser while you turn the pages.
Finding on a used bookstore’s shelves a western by R.C. House that I haven’t yet read is a pleasure. I rather broadly categorize westerns into those focused on action and those focused on storytelling. The two categories don’t have to be mutually exclusive, but House’s novels I usually place in the Storytelling bucket.
There can be plenty of action in a Storytelling-focused western. For example, I’d place the O. Henry story about the Cisco Kid, “The Caballero’s Way,” in the Storytelling category, but while the yarn-spinning and attention to language is an important part of the tale, there’s plenty of murderous action in the story.
There’s action in Stouthearted Men, but clearly House loves the play with words, just as I note in my post about O. Henry’s story. The roll out of of the plot and action is far more leisurely than one would encounter in a paperback original from the Gold Medal, Ace, and Signet era of the late 1950s up through the '60s. House focuses on characters, their quirks, their ways of speech, and brings a smile or a frown as appropriate. The opening paragraph of Stouthearted Men:
"A killer and pillager deluxe named Bad-Face Ike Bodene broke jail for the second time and is on the prod. That's why I called together this posse commitatus of stout-hearted men. There'll be six of us against about three to one odds."
House can demonstrate a bit of the poet's DNA as well:
With dawn, night clouds turned themselves into glorious smears of rose paint against a gray sky fast ripening to a rich blue along the eastern horizon. Close to the still-dark land, silhouetted forms of six mounted figures loomed black as paper cutouts against the dim of daybreak, their heads bobbing sleepily on the trail out of Fort Walker.
I had the pleasure of making R.C.'s acquaintance through the miracle of e-mail, thanks to a virtual introduction by Robert Randisi. We corresponded a few months before he died. It was a pleasure to know him slightly before his death. It's a pleasure to read one of his books for the first time.